One Deck Dungeon - Review

Simon Todd - 22nd July 2017

One Deck Dungeon - the name says it all. But for those thinking its a single pack of cards simulating a location full of nasties you're missing the key message in the games' title.

DECK. As in this game will deck you.

One Deck Dungeon is a roguelike (i.e. brutally hard, randomly generated) dungeon crawler, set in the fictional world of... well, that's unspecified. Infact none of the story is specified at all. You're dungeoneering OK, you don't need backstory, just kill stuff and take that sweet, sweet loot. Fortunately, murder and loot are delivered by the delicious truckload.

Every monster and trap you encounter in the dungeon has to be overcome in time-honoured RPG tradition with dice. Your Strength (yellow), Agility (pink) and Magic (blue) stats allow you to roll a number of appropriately coloured dice. Once rolled, the baddies are defeated by using those dice to cover up matching coloured squares on both their card and the overarching dungeon card, which gets progressively more challenging as you descend deeper and deeper into the dungeon.

Any squares you fail to cover up will come with a penalty, which either speeds through the deck more quickly to represent wasted time, or just plain bludgeons your health. Lose all your health and it's game over, lose too much time and the lack of character progression will make each subsequent fight tougher and tougher. The good news is, no matter how badly you do in an encounter, you always defeat it and claim some loot. Alternatively, if the encounter looks too tricky, you can just flee to safety and look for something easier to pick on.

Acquiring that loot is absolutely mandatory to have even the slightest chance of making it to the bosses lair, let alone attempt to defeat it. Each defeated enemy card can either give you an item (more dice to roll and possibly more health), a skill (a way of manipulating your dice in an encounter), or a number of experience points (used to level up and increase the number of items and skills you can have concurrently).

Once the deck is empty, your character slides down deeper into the dungeon. Go through the deck 3 times and you get to face off against the boss. In a nutshell it's that simple and it plays so quickly that the estimate of 30 minutes per game is largely spot on. The multi-use cards are a slick mechanic and the 'clock' of the deck gives real urgency to trying to improve your character, often luring you into fighting enemies that you stand absolutely no chance of beating. Mastering this urge is vitally important to standing a chance of victory.

Unfortunately though, you are ultimately in the hands of the notoriously bastardly god of luck when playing One Deck Dungeon. Games can be completely de-railed very early on by revealing a bunch of unbeatable encounters, forcing you to effectively suicide. And for the times that you dodge that bullet, you can be sure that you'll make some abysmally poor dice rolls that not even your long list of skills can mitigate.

All this results in a feeling of "meh, whatever" as you play, resigned to the fact that fate reigns supreme over skill. The sooner you realise this the sooner you can enjoy One Deck Dungeon for what it really excels at being: a super-compact, easy-to-learn, quick-playing, enjoyable dice chucker.

There's a standalone expansion on the way; sign me up.